Consumerism, Even in the Name of Sustainability, Is Harmful


As a participant in the SCORAI network, I get periodic emails about sustainable consumption. SCORAI Is a network of researchers working on this subject. I find this group a source of inspiration and knowledge, even while I cannot accept the phrase "sustainable consumption" as meaningful. The latest message carried a link to an article in the Guardian about the creation of consumers in the last century.

Written by Stephanie Draper, with the title, "PR created consumerism - what can it do for sustainability?", the article tells the story of Edward Bernays (in the photo), the father of public relations, and how he created consumers through this technique. The main example is the story of how Bernays got women to start smoking by creating a newsworthy event used to send the message that smoking is part of the liberation that women of the times were feeling. It was very successful and showed the power of emotion over reason, a subject that is very much in the news today.

There is nothing particularly controversial about this part of the story in the Guardian, but the reporter continues to argue that "Valuable lessons can be learned from the 'father of PR', and used to drive public interest in a sustainable business future." She argues that proponents of sustainability should use these techniques to drive a shift to less impactful consumption.

I do not disagree with objective of producing the primary outcome: lower impact. If anything PR campaigns have become even more nuanced and powerful today. But this strategy would embed the ism of consumerism more deeply. Sustainability cannot be created until humans shift from the Having mode (connected closely to consumerism) to the Being mode of living (the absence of isms). Being comes only with authentic actions, coming from the inside and not driven by cultural norms such as are produced by PR. Bernays was a master at this. Consumerism is dominating no matter what is the nature of what is consumed and its material effects on the world.

We do not need PR. We need therapy or some practice that would reconnect every individual to the deeply rooted caring that makes each one of us human. Cultural voices, whether pushing for harmful or for green consumption, mask this fundamental foundation. It matters not at all for sustainability if we should find a way to preserve the environment but fail to discover our Being in the process. We would still be far from flourishing.

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morrison @ sustainability consultant said:

Living a sustainable lifestyle is one way to help. In this series pages we will go into what sustainability has to with ecology, recycling, water, and more. We will also reveal what some companies (like Petsmart and Disney) are doing to make a difference by operating their businesses in a sustainable way.